During June, LGBTQ+ Pride Month, CASA of CGS is casting a spotlight on LGBTQ+ youth in the foster care system, and the need for LGBTQ+ and LGBTQ-affirming volunteers to advocate for their safety and well-being.
CASA of CGS recruits and trains Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA volunteers, to speak up for the best interests of children in foster care. We are committed to serving all children in care in Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem counties, including youth who identify as LGBTQ+.
It is vital to not only affirm these youth, but celebrate them--and yearlong, not only during Pride Month.
“There is nothing more important than supporting our children to accomplish their goals, achieve their dreams, and be loved and supported no matter what,” said CASA of CGS Program Director Jennifer Henderson. “Our children who identify as LGBTQ+ need our unconditional support as they navigate through the challenges of life. Providing children with a CASA advocate to be their champion during this critical time in their lives is an opportunity to share love for one another regardless of differences.”
In New Jersey and nationwide, LGBTQ+ youth are overrepresented in foster care, meaning that the percentage of LGBTQ+ youth in foster care is greater than the percentage of LGBTQ+ youth in the general youth population. In fact, according to a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 30 percent of youth in foster care identify as LGBTQ+, compared to 11 percent of the general youth population. This is due in large part to the fact that coming out to family members who are not accepting can lead to harassment, abuse, and even rejection, making it more likely for these children than their non-LGBTQ+ peers to experience homelessness or end up in foster care.
LGBTQ+ youth face even more challenges once they are in foster care. Not only are they less likely to find permanency, but they have a higher average number of foster placements, higher rates of mental health challenges, and higher rates of reported harassment, discrimination, and violence against them.
It is important for CASA volunteers to recognize these realities, so that they can compassionately and effectively advocate for these children’s needs and help keep them safe while they are in foster care. It’s also critical so that they can have effective conversations with adults in children’s lives about being supportive—research shows that even just a little change towards being more accepting for parents, foster parents, guardians and caregivers can reduce a young person’s risk for negative outcomes.
“These kids need people on their side. We want to be able to offer volunteers who really understand the unique challenges they face,” said Hillary Nichols, Outreach and Victim Services Coordinator at CASA of CGS. “Having LGBTQ+ volunteers is such an asset for LGBTQ+ youth in foster care. They can understand and empathize with these kids on a level many others can’t.”
CASA of CGS welcomes, accepts, and celebrates LGBTQ+ volunteers, and calls upon the local LGBTQ+ community to reach a hand out to the LGBTQ+ youth currently in foster care. Help us provide kids in foster care with an advocate that can truly understand them and their unique experiences.
“We need more LGBTQ+ and LGBTQ-affirming volunteers. We want to work together with the LGBTQ+ community to make sure our CASA advocacy is the best it can be for the kids we serve,” said Julia Shulzhenko, CASA of CGS Recruitment and Training Coordinator. “We want to create more positive outcomes for LGBTQ+ youth, turn around the statistics, and make sure they have the same chance to thrive as any other youth. You can help change a child’s story; all you need to do is take the first step. We have trainings year-round, and you can easily learn more about what we do on our website, social media, or by reaching out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always here and happy to help!”